Genetic regions aid thinking skills


Published: Tuesday 3rd February 2015 by The News Editor

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Four genetic regions have been identified that appear to give people stronger thinking skills.

Scientists who analysed genetic data on 54,000 people aged 45 and over from Europe, North America and Australia, found that general mental ability – or cognitive function – was 28% heritable.

They discovered significant signals from four regions of the genetic code associated with a better ability to process information in the brain.

The regions contained genes that have previously been linked to neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the research underwent a variety of memory and thinking tests whose results were summarised in a general cognitive ability score. All had their DNA examined in hundreds of thousands of locations.

Lead scientist Professor Ian Deary, director of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Before this study we knew that general thinking skills in older age were heritable to some extent, but we did not know which genes were involved.

“These small genetic signals are like the first lights on a distant shore. We find that, with these types of genetic studies, the larger the number of people tested, the more genetic signals emerge. These findings are exciting in themselves, but they herald more such discoveries as the studies grow in size.”

He added: “It is good that the concerns of older people are receiving more attention in research. One of the major concerns is the loss of cognitive ability that some people experience with age. A part of that is due to genetic differences.

“This type of research tries to locate the genes involved, and how they work. And that’s the key. This is not about finding out something about which one can do nothing. The idea is to understand the biological mechanisms that support healthy thinking in older age and to pass that on to those working on possible ameliorations of cognitive decline.”

The international study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, was conducted under the auspices of the Charge (Cohorts for Heart and Ageing Research in Genetic Epidemiology) Consortium.

It involved researchers in Australia, Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the US.

Scottish volunteers took part in five of the investigations.

James Goodwin, head of research at the charity Age UK – which co-funded the research, said: “These findings are a real breakthrough, for the first time identifying genes that influence the way our brains work in older age.

“This work will be invaluable in understanding how our minds age and how dementia develops. It is also likely to play an important role in shaping our future thinking about health care and public health”.

Published: Tuesday 3rd February 2015 by The News Editor

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